According to a Children’s Department Technical Working Group report, 12,409 girls aged below 20 years are said to have given birth between January 2018 and March this year.
The report which was tabled before the County Area Advisory council on Tuesday also revealed that a total of 352 girls aged between 10 and 14 years got pregnant during the same period.
But it is the shocking revelations of an eight-year-old boy who was repeatedly sodomised by his brothers and cousins that provoked the ire of the committee that was chaired by the County Commissioner (CC), Esther Maina.
According to County Children Officer, Salome Muthama, the boy who hails from Mua area in Machakos central ward had been referred to her office by the Police early this week after officers claimed they could not apprehend the suspects since the matter was a domestic issue.
By the time the mother of the victim was knocking at Muthama’s office, much damage had been done to the boy who currently requires urgent reconstructive surgery.
Indeed it was this sickening incident that prompted Maina to order Police to revisit the incident and ensure justice is done for the little boy.
She faulted the Police for downplaying the incident instead of taking over the case and ensuring those involved were promptly brought to book regardless of their age and relationship to the victim.
“I will personally take over this matter and get to the bottom of what transpired between the victim and the concerned Police officers. Let us protect our childen.This is our duty to protect our children. The vulnerable need justice,’’ promised the county chief.
Maina similarly put chiefs and their assistants on notice warning those found concealing crucial information regarding men preying on underage girls that they risk losing their jobs besides facing criminal proceedings.
She noted that many of the cases collapse in court due to shoddy investigations at the local level and the culture of settling such cases in informal village sittings commonly referred to as kangaroo courts.
These illegal sittings are in most cases presided over by local rogue administrators who collude with the affected families to skirt the justice system at the cost of the aggrieved minor who cannot speak for herself.
And this is not an isolated case in Machakos. Cases of sexual abuse against underage girls and boys are an everyday occurrence in the county.
Stakeholders in the Children department are now shocked at the high numbers of underage girls falling prey to sex marauding pests.
Indeed, if figures from the county’s health facilities are anything to go by, then there is every reason for residents and leaders to be worried.
According to official statistics which were released towards the end of last year by the County Children Department, the number of pregnancies for girls aged 10 and 14 years beginning from January to October stood at 2,040.
In addition, between the same periods a total of 8,016 girls aged between 15 and 19 years were reported to have visited the various health facilities for pregnancy related treatment.
Overall, a total of 8,220 underage pregnancies were reported in the county, notwithstanding the fact that this number excludes girls who gave birth at home and were therefore not documented.
Mrs. Muthama, who is the County Children Officer now warns that unless something urgent is done, the future of the girls in the county is bleak.
Among the causative factors that have been cited in the rising cases of defilement in the county is a general breakdown of traditional morals in the society buoyed by an influx of western values thanks to the entry of social media platforms.
Imam Annas Abdalla, who heads the Machakos Jamia Mosque, blames the society for abandoning its long held traditional values and embracing ‘alien ideals’ that have corrupted both young and old.
The imam warns that unless parents spare quality time to educate their children on the acceptable values and norms that will help them confront the ghosts of western liberalism, the country has no future generation to talk about.
“The society has fallen prey to the dictates of social media craze, drugs and booze which have aggravated the situation by exposing minors to explicit sexual orgies through the internet. Religious leaders have not helped the situation much despite being the last fort of refuge for the community in dealing with these challenges,” he told participants.
His sentiments were echoed by Anglican Cleric, Rev. Patrick Munuve who accused religious leaders of absconding their sacred calling and turning places of worship into business and amusement parks.
Munuve says the church which was once viewed as a beacon of morality has abandoned that role and is slowly turning out to be an enterprise for cashing on innocent, gullible and desperate souls seeking solace from the daily hardships.
“The church has transformed herself into a business entity and abandoned its scared traditional role of setting the moral standards for the society. Indeed, the church is no longer the voice of morality for the society,” he said.
The cleric is now calling for an inter-religious convention to deliberate on ways to help tackle sexual abuses against minors besides other emerging social ills like suicide cases that are currently taking a toll on youths.
Muthama notes that sexual offences against minors has now reached ‘disturbing levels’ and portends a real threat for the overall growth of the country including eradication of poverty and dealing with rising crime levels.
She said her office has now partnered with various stakeholders including Case –OVC, Plan International and the Terry Ann Children Support group to take the message of child protection to the grassroots.
Some of those being roped in this drive include chiefs, the Police, boda boda operators, bar owners and even former jail birds who have now reformed.
She says for any meaningful breakthrough, the government must pass a similar message to every member of the society regarding the need to protect children from any form of abuse.
A whatsapp group platform has also been formulated where participants can share out information and ideas on emerging issues related to children.
“We are partnering with chiefs, the Police, teachers, boda boda operators, bar owners and liquor licensing officers in our efforts to sensitise the public on child protection rights and how they can assist in the war against sexual abuse among our children. We need to keep up in relaying key messages to our listeners on what’s going on among our children. And these messages must be similar in all forums,” she emphasised.
The CC says there was need for a mutual working partnership between the county and national government in the war against alcoholism and drug dependency among the youths which has partly been blamed for early teenage pregnancies and the spread in HIV/Aids and STIs.
She noted that majority of youths whose lives have been wrecked by substance abuse have nowhere to get psycho-social assistance as the country lacks enough rehabilitation centres to address their needs.
“We need to develop a close working relationship with the county government where they can assist in opening a rehabilitation centre to deal with drug and alcoholic addicts. We need to support each other in safeguarding the rights of our children and people instead of blaming each other when things go wrong,” she added.
Rev. Leah Ambwaya, the founder of Terry Children Homes insists that the only way to deal with sexual abuse against children is to make sure culprits are brought to book to answer for their errant behavior.
She points out that as a long as the society buries its head in the sand and shields paedophiles from justice, the war against sexual abuse against underage children will remain a pipe dream.
According to a 2017 United Nations Population Fund Report on teenage pregnancies in Kenya, nearly one in five girls aged 15-19 had already had a baby or was pregnant by 2014.
The UNFPA estimates that at least 20,000 girls under 18 years give birth everyday in Africa.
By Samuel Maina/Rachael Kilonzo